One of the most exciting parts about embarking on a new custom software development project is diving in and learning the nuances of our client's business. Usually I have at least a passing knowledge of their industry, but occasionally I'm taken by surprise. One of those times was when my team at J Street Technology was contacted by CALAMCO.
The state of California is the largest producer of food in the US, demanding hundreds of thousands of tons of fertilizer per year. A key component of fertilizer is nitrogen, most easily shipped as ammonia (NH3). CALAMCO, founded in 1957, is a grower's shareholder cooperative that allows members to purchase ammonia collectively, lowering the prices on fertilizer for each shareholder. Not only did I not know about CALAMCO, I didn’t even know their industry existed!
Today, CALAMCO is an integral part of the fertilizer supply chain for more than a thousand growers across California. All that ammonia, and all those shareholders, stock transfers, purchases, and rebates need to be carefully tracked, and no off-the-shelf software could possibly do the trick.
Taking on the Challenge
CALAMCO already had a custom application when they contacted us, but they were looking for additional functionality and were concerned about long term support. They wanted to stay with Access because they were comfortable with desktop applications, and the rapid development speed of Access would lower their costs. Also, since they have an Office 365 subscription, they automatically get new Access features they may want to use, like the new modern charts and Dynamics GP connectivity.
Together, we set out to design and build a new Access application with a SQL Server back-end database, and an online web portal for their customers. But there was a twist: not only was their industry completely new to us, but due to intellectual property concerns, we never saw the old application. We agreed to design the system based on phone calls only, building the requirements and industry knowledge through interview-style conversations.
Ultimately, we replaced their system with a better one—a system that they own, including source code, with the perpetual right to use and modify the design of their system, with or without us.
A Practical Solution
Every year, CALAMCO uses their custom J Street Access application to calculate the ammonia percentages of all fertilizer purchases and issue rebates to their shareholders. This amounts to millions of dollars per year returned to their shareholders. The system also allows shares to be bought, sold, transferred and inherited, automatically tracking everything so that rebates are determined correctly.
About the Author
Armen Stein leads a team of highly-experienced database and web application developers. His company, J Street Technology, builds custom database applications using Microsoft Access, SQL Server, ASP.net MVC and SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS). They are also a Microsoft Partner, and offer Office 365 configuration, migration and consulting services. Armen has been a Microsoft Access MVP since 2006.
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